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Bel Canto


Stars: Julianne Moore, Ken Watanabe, Sebastian Koch, Christopher Lambert, Ryo Kase, Olek Krupa, Tenoch Huerta, Maria Mercedes Coroy

Director: Paul Weitz

A somewhat offbeat aspect of this suitably stressful but not always entirely plausible hostage thriller, based on Ann Patchett's 2001 best-selling novel, is perhaps that is it co-written (with Anthony Weintraub) and directed by Weitz who, best known for helming such coarse comedies as American Pie and Little Fockers.

Moore makes the most of her centre screen role as a celebrated American soprano who travels to South America to give a private concert for Japanese industrialist Watanabe. Her visit hits the wrong notes, however when Watanabe's mansion is taken over by rebel guerrillas who seek the release of an imprisoned comrade.

Unfortunately for the invaders, they miss out on their target, the country's President, who has decided to home to watch his favourite television show.

Cue what is essentially a slick, suspenseful enough Hollywood-style riff on the Stockholm Syndrome, where hostages and terrorists start to bond while Red Cross German negotiator Koch works to end the situation. A subplot that sees Moore and Watanabe embark on an affair and some of the guerrillas finding unlikely romantic ties might, for a cynic, suggest that a hostage situation could well serve as an unexpected aphrodisiac for hostages and terrorists alike.

Moore makes the most of her leading role and is well served lip-synching to the superb singing of opera star Renee Fleming, and other performances are suitably effective if hardly outstanding. Mexico City stands in effectively for Peru, the location of the original novel, while a Yonkers mansion serves splendidly for the interiors of Watanabe's palatial home.

Alan Frank

USA 2019. UK Distributor: Vertigo. Colour.
100 minutes. Widescreen. UK certificate: 15.

Guidance ratings (out of 3): Sex/nudity 1, Violence/Horror 2, Drugs 1, Swearing 2.

Review date: 24 Apr 2019